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Applied Science in the English school curriculum: the meaning and significance of 'vocationalization'

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This paper is concerned with a specific example of an emerging international tendency within secondary education: the process of 'vocationalization'. It begins with an account of the wider international and historical context and then focuses on an empirical study of a recent reform of the late-secondary curriculum in England: the creation of 'Applied Science' as a so-called 'vocational subject'. This reform derives from an attempt to reconfigure the 14-19 curriculum, aiming to make it more relevant to future occupations and to break down institutional and status-related divisions between 'academic' and 'vocational' subjects. The paper draws on school-based fieldwork, national questionnaires, and other sources. It shows that the rationale for applied science was not clear, its support systems rudimentary, and the challenges it posed for schools considerable. Nevertheless it enjoyed some success, in part through its congruence with teachers established views of how science should be taught. The paper concludes with a broader analysis of the innovation and its applications for 'vocational' reform, focusing on: whether Applied Science constituted a 'resource' for schools; its differential social and intellectual 'positioning' across students; and the disciplinary meaning (in a neo-Foucaldian sense) of its progressivist pedagogy and assessment regime.

Keywords: applied science; curriculum reform; portfolio-based assessment; science curriculum; status; vocational education

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2009-02-01

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